Seth Godin’s Linchpin followed in the narrative style of his previously published books like Tribes and The Dip. The blog-style, easily digestible chunks of information are quick and easy to work through, much like Godin’s blog posts.
Herein lies the issue for me as a reader: if the book is approached as a standalone, it’s passably useful. The information housed between its covers is basic, generic, even, but presented in a common-sense kind of way that makes it easy to think “oh yeah, that makes sense.” Section heads with titles like “Fear Self-fulfills” can be useful for illuminating troubling areas of a reader’s life or work ethic that are usually avoided or ignored…
Studies show us that things learned in frightening circumstances are sticky. We remember what we learn on the battlefield, or what we burn a finger on a hot tea kettle. We remember what we learn in situations where successful action avoids a threat. // Schools have figured this out. They need shortcuts in order to successfully process millions of students a year, and they’ve discovered that fear is a great shortcut on the way to teaching compliance. Classrooms become fear-based, test-based battlefields, when they could so easily be organized to encourage the heretical thought we so badly need.
This kind of writing makes sense, and there’s something eternally refreshing about an author making bold and sweeping claims about the ills that plague us as individuals and society. When Godin posts snippets like this (on his blog), they seem like bright gems – small, brilliant, and easily enjoyed.
In a full-length book, however, this kind of narrative style begins to wear thin. There’s a shift in effect; a bold and sweeping statement works in small chunks but an increase in length directly corresponds to an increased impression of gross generalization and foundationless soap-boxing. This is a tricky thing because the ideas are still interesting, bold, even brilliant but they begin to suffer from overstatement. As I closed the back cover of Linchpin I wondered why Mr. Godin didn’t publish a book with about three sentences instead of what I’d read.
Be passionate. Don’t be afraid. Make “relevancy” an evolving goal.
Or perhaps even one sentence:
Be indispensable by being indispensable.
Of course, Linchpin is not a blog post, and that’s ultimately why two stars. The content of Linchpin doesn’t need to be book-length but Godin is writing for a specific audience, one that likes hardbound covers and dust-jackets rather than a screen and a blogroll. That is, this book exists because Godin wanted to publish a book, not because the content is most appropriate (or enjoyable) for print media. Godin tries to write a book but instead ends up with a very long print version of a blog.
Two stars, in my world, means I’m glad I read it–I generally enjoy Godin’s work, even when it lasts too long–but I’ll never read it again. And in this case, I think this book has permanently put me off Godin books. Next time I’ll just get it on his blog. It’s better there, anyway.
For a more in-depth, positional opposition to the content (rather than the format) of Linchpin I suggest reading Mike Myatt’s review – which begins with a bold image claiming “I’d fire the linchpin.”